Charity is a theological virtue. It applies to all and involves engaging, directly, those around us who are in need. CST, which is a branch of Catholic Moral Theology, contains a set of principles to be used to form our conscience as we impact on the social structures around us.
We need to clear up some of the confusion caused by the many projects labeled ‘social justice’ but which are, in fact, usually initiatives of charity. We need to be clear to distinguish between charity, understood as corporal works of mercy, and Catholic Social Teaching.
Charity is a theological virtue. It applies to all and involves engaging, directly, those around us who are in need. Charity is directed at the effects of injustice, its symptoms. Charity addresses problems that already exist. Charity, as a theological virtue, is what we are all called to do, as individuals. As Pope Benedict says charity or
"Love of neighbour, grounded in the love of God, is first and foremost a responsibility for each individual member of the faithful" (DCE, 20)
"To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity." (CIV, 7)
CST, which is a branch of Catholic Moral Theology, contains a set of principles to be used to form our conscience as we impact on the social structures around us. Social Justice (which is a noun not a verb) is the result of CST applied in the world, the end goal being promoting social change in institutions or political structures. Social Action (which is a verb) is the implementation of CST -- not exclusively comprised of acts of Charity.
Catholic Social Teaching contains a set of principles to be used in forming ones conscience on how to respond to the structures of society. As Benedict XVI defined it in CIV:
"Her social doctrine is a particular dimension of this proclamation: it is a service to the truth which sets us free. Open to the truth, from whichever branch of knowledge it comes, the Church's social doctrine receives it, assembles into a unity the fragments in which it is often found, and mediates it within the constantly changing life-patterns of the society of peoples and nations." (CIV, 9)
The relationship between Charity and Social Justice
"Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is “his”, what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting. I cannot “give” what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them." (CIV, 6)
Social justice will inform how institutions such as non-profit food pantries, soup kitchens and institutions like Catholic Relief Services are established, organized and operate. But clothing runs, food drives, home building projects, and donating to Catholic Relief Services are acts of charity – corporal works of mercy, not social justice. However, charity, as a Theological Virtue, certainly must and does inform CST. Indeed, Benedict reminded us in CIV that
"Charity is at the heart of the Church's social doctrine." (CIV, 2)
"“Caritas in veritate” is the principle around which the Church's social doctrine turns" (CIV, 6)
continuing to make the point that
"Justice is the primary way of charity" (CIV, 6)
"On the other hand, charity transcends justice and completes it" (CIV, 6)
–but– they are not the same.
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